A Free Afternoon = A New Database

I made sure to get all of my work for Monday’s classes done yesterday so that I could have a genealogy afternoon today! But I’ve been in the process of creating a photo album scrapbook for my daughter’s graduation this May, so my genealogy files weren’t in any condition to do traditional research. Instead,  I decided to work on creating a database in Excel of all of the Stephens gravestones in Russell County cemeteries. It’s pretty mindless work, so I can also “watch” marathons of my favorite HGTV shows while entering information. To keep from getting TOO overwhelmed with it, I decided to only enter information for people who were born before 1900.

I had a column for name, birth date, death date, parents, spouse and cemetery.

I LOVE creating databases like this in Excel because of the information that I see (REALLY see) for the first time based on sorting the database by columns. For example, when I sort by name, I can see all of the men named Andrew J. Stephens and fill in some of the blanks on the various groups sheets that I have. When I consider the location of the cemetery for each man, it helps me see which locations within the county are most likely to go with each man.

I can sort based on date of death and then see a list of people who died in the time frame in which death certificates are available on Ancestry to see if there are certificates that I haven’t discovered yet.

I can sort based on Parents and an incredibly complete group sheet appears before my eyes because of the links added to family stones and images of obituaries that volunteers have added. Often, I’ll find a spouse or child that I didn’t know about by doing this.

Or I can sort based on the Cemetery and begin to see possibilities for family connections that I didn’t think of before.

This sheet of the database is now part of a Stephens workbook that I’ve been working on over the years. Any time I’m at a standstill in research for one reason or another, I try to take one source – a specific book or website – and add all of the entries that I can whether I know they are related to my line or not. I have solved many puzzles with databases like this one! Now, if I have a date of death on the Cemetery sheet, but no parents, I can check to see if I have information on the Death Records worksheet to see if parents are listed there. I have worksheets for Birth Records, Marriage Records, Deeds, Taxes, Census Records, Military Info, Death Records and now – Cemeteries. And of course, every entry has the source included so I don’t have to go back to the actual book or website to add a record to my software database.

While it isn’t an earth shattering revelation for doing research, I’m always surprised by what I discover even though it was looking me directly in the face before!

Wishful thinking…

I was taking a look at my blog statistics today and I noticed that quite often, people find my blog by doing an internet search for people who happen to be my ancestors.  For example, a search for “John Smith Russell County Kentucky”.

Oh, how I wish those people would let me know that we may be researching the same line! I’ve always heard that a blog would be a great way to meet “cousins”, but I can only think of a couple of times that I’ve been contacted by a related researcher who found my family information through this blog.

Now, I really don’t want to sound “snooty”, but if I put my information out on this blog and find researchers who are reading it, but not at least letting me know that we may be related, then there can be no sharing of information, but only taking. Even if a person feels they have nothing to share, at the very least, we could become research “buddies” who could each look at questions from different angles and look at research opportunities that one of us has that the other doesn’t.

Doesn’t that sound lovely??

Scattered!

As you know from one of my recent posts, for Christmas, I received the gift of my own room – actually 2 rooms because there’s a tiny room just off of “my” room. This is to be my genealogy (and scrapbooking) sanctuary. A place where I can make and sort my piles and not have to put them away. A place for me to put papers and maps all over the wall and not worry about what visitors might think. And I’ve been spending any free time that I have on the week-ends re-painting and moving furniture and such and now it’s finally at a place where I can do a little genealogy without tripping over stuff. It still has a ways to go to be my ideal room, but at least it’s usable and today, I’ve been able to spend the day working on my files.

But what I’m finding it that my files are SCATTERED all over the house! You know how it is, take a file from your filing cabinet to the library. Write all over the file and keep it in a backpack for your next trip. But you need the backpack for a different reason, so the file gets put on the kitchen counter. Then company comes, so you put the file into a drawer – on and on it goes.

So now, my goal is to start collecting everything genealogy related from the various rooms and desks and drawers and backpacks of the house and into my genealogy room. Each of the cubbies that I’ve purchased will be dedicated to a surname as I gather the files. Whenever I get to spend some time in my room, I’ll go through the stacks and get them placed into the correct file in my filing cabinet.

Now I can hear many of you saying, “It’s time to go paperless!” and for the most part, I do have digital versions of my collection, but it’s just not the same as flipping through the pages and writing questions and thoughts in the margins. Not to mention the fact that I have digital files on an old laptop, on an external drive, on Dropbox and Google Drive and on a couple of flash drives.  The flash drives go with me everywhere so that when I have time to do some web surfing, I have my files with me. But until recently, I haven’t had a flash drive large enough for ALL my files, so my digital dilemma is very similar to my paper dilemma. Which location has the most recent file? Did I combine my newest information with the information on my laptop?

So I’m beginning with one family line – Stephens. And I’m making my largest flash drive my final location for files. I’ll be comparing my paper notes with my digital files and getting everything into the FINAL location. When I think I have found all of my print outs, folders, files, binders, etc. and put them in my room and all of my notes for a family up to date, then I’ll print them out and replace anything in my filing cabinet that needs to be updated and then I will throw away the old files. I’ve always been reluctant to throw out anything because of the stuff I written in the margins, but that’s how I’ve gotten into the mess I’m in now. So this will be the ultimate purging of my files. Will this be a quick process, of course not. But I have a feeling that as I go through these things, I will find that puzzles will be solved and I’ll have a more complete set of notes to research from in the future!

Awesome Maps!

2 hour school delay this morning – yes! I love these unexpected chunks of free time when I don’t feel guilty for doing some genealogy surfing!

This morning, I was looking at some genealogy newsletters that I get in my email and I saw a hint to take a map of the area you are researching and to draw concentric circles 5, 10, 15, etc. miles out from the location of your ancestor to see when places on the map might be likely places to research for more information on an ancestor. In the article, it mentioned USGS web site as a great resource for downloading topographic maps – and what a goldmine I feel like I’ve found!

The area of Kentucky that I research is very hilly and covered with little creeks and branches from the Cumberland River. I’ve always intended to take a more detailed look at the County Map that I have to pinpoint the different waterways that have been mentioned. The waterways are always mentioned in the tax records to show the location of the land being taxed.  The maps I’ve found on USGS are excellent for this type of research and you can download them for free!

So now, my plan is to take a look at my County map to make a list of the towns around my ancestor’s locations and to download the maps that are available to put on my research wall. I think that till now, I’ve been a “can’t see the trees because of the forest” kind of person. I know I have the County map, but I’ve never taken the time to focus on which part of the county my ancestors are in – something I should have done loooooooooooooooong ago. This will be my opportunity to do that!

Genealogy Room Disaster

Oh my goodness, the genealogy room was going great – almost every surface has new paint on it.

My son was working on adding coats of thick, black magnetic paint to an area of my wall and I was on a chair touching up the edges of the ceiling paint. When I got off the chair, I stumbled and grabbed a table for balance and guess what was on the table….the can of black, magnetic paint!

My carpet now looks like a Holstein cow…..

On the bright side, it looks like there may be some new carpet in my future! On the downside, this is not an expense we need right now.

Not really genealogy worthy news, but I had to vent…

Happy New Year!

Ahhhh…..January 1st! A new beginning! A fresh start! For one day at least, I don’t feel overwhelmed with projects and “to do” lists because, for today, the slate is wiped clean and the possibilities are endless.

Too bad that feeling won’t last long!

BUT, I do have a few goals (I won’t call them resolutions) or projects for 2013.

#1) My first “goal” for this year is to put a serious dent into my citations. I continue to collect information for my family tree and I’ve been indicating the location where the information was found, but not anywhere NEAR the citation format that ‘d like to have. Right now, my footnote might say simply “Find-a-grave” or a library book call number. Time to update those sources into true citations!

#2) Project – I really do hope to create the interactive PowerPoint project for my family to enjoy. Obviously, I was unable to get that done this year, but I’m hoping for some significant changes in my job this year which could potentially give me significantly more time to work on my genealogy. It’s potentially too good to even mention out loud, so this change is in the whisper stages only!

#3) Organization – I have found that I often desire to work on my genealogy, but have NO desire to search for the files I need when I only have an hour or less to work. How wonderful would it be to have a place that I look forward to being in that has fewer distractions (yes, washing machine beep, I’m talking about you!) as well as having all of my genealogy stuff in an easily accessible location? I’d love a way to display my materials on a large scale because I’m just such a visual person that I often see connections or questions only when I see everything at the same time.

I have to say that I’m one of the luckiest women in the world because I have the best husband around! We have been married for 27 years and have 4 children. Our house has 5 bedrooms but two of our children are out on their own, leaving 2 “empty” bedrooms. For Christmas this year, I’ve been given the go-ahead (Along with a very generous pre-paid Visa card!) to make one of those bedrooms into my very own genealogy heaven!

My plans include a fresh coat of paint, with one wall having special paint to make it a magnet board – a twelve foot magnet board! All new furniture including my ideas for the ideal genealogy file system where I can lay out a project and not have to put it away until I’m ready to move on to a different family! I plan to have a counter-height cubbie system to keep my tools, files and magazines stored in while spreading various files across the top to analyze. I will spread my papers across the top for organizing, scanning, hole punching, writing on, or whatever is needed at that time without worrying about putting it all away because my family needs the kitchen table for dinner!

Pictures of ancestors on the walls, maps and charts and colorful dry erase boards to keep reminders and plans on. I plan to have large print-outs of groups sheets and 5-gen charts displayed for quick reference. I’ll have a system for easy storage and access to the rolls of newsprint that I like to use.

And everything in bright colors that I wouldn’t normally have in my more traditional rooms because I won’t have to please anyone but myself! My 3rd son is supplying the painting labor as his Christmas gift to me – a project which begins tomorrow! The room has no windows, so I plan to use color to make the room brighter. I’m buying the colorful canvas boxes to put in the cubbie spaces and I’m getting colorful binders for my single surname worksheets and files.

One of my Christmas gifts was a small, wireless speaker that has fantastic sound that I plan to use to listen to podcasts or music. I also got a nice flatscreen tv that won’t take up much space, but which will allow me to hook my computer into to watch web videos on various genealogy subjects. I’m even planning to have an area for “refreshments”. I have a small refrigerator that we got for college boys that will now be in my room and I’m planning space for making my favorite tea.

Shopping starts today! Any suggestions for my “genealogy heaven”?

Happy New Year to all my genealogy friends! Praying that you have many blessings in the coming year!

Filling in Blanks

Hallelujah, it’s that time of year again – midterm exams! That means no lesson plans, no worksheets to create, no notes to type out, no after school tutoring – just sitting back and watching students take the tests. And better yet, this year I only have to be available during my own tests, I don’t have to proctor for anyone else! Instead, I’ll be the technology help desk person, but as long as our internet doesn’t go down, it should be a pretty easy week.

Which means I can “think genealogy” while the school is quiet and everyone is occupied!

So, to get back into genealogy mode, I’m “information surfing” this morning, which everyone does. But, I’m working the opposite way I normally do. Instead of looking at blanks on my group sheets and trying to find information, I’m taking a series of records on Ancestry and looking page by page to see anyone with my surnames and then adding new information to my charts that way. So far, I’m looked through all of the death certificates for Russell County in 1918 and 1919. As I add new documents to my tree, I’m also taking a look on Findagrave for the cemetery listed on the death certificate. From there, I’ll look for everyone in that cemetery with the same surname.

So while these aren’t necessarily people I would have purposely researched (usually, collateral lines), I AM filling in blanks, which makes me a happy camper! It’s “easy” research and I know that interruptions are no big deal, which is great for me right now as I try to nurse my 17 year old through the incredibly painful time of tonsillectomy recovery.

In case I don’t get to post again this week, Merry Christmas everyone! As I think about the grieving families in Connecticut, I’m once again reminded of how good God has been to me this year and I pray you feel the same!

My Lucy Stephens Theory

I haven’t posted anything in FOREVER and today, I finally got to spend some time looking at my genealogy files. I’ve had a possible family for Lucy Stephens and tonight, I tried to work out from that family to see if I can find the connection to her husband’s family – Andrew Stephens.

So this may make no sense at all, but I wanted to get it in writing so that the next time I get a chance to look at files, I’ll remember what I was thinking. I’m also hoping that by getting my theory out there, someone might be able to give me some ideas of where else I can look for clues.

Andrew Stephens married Lucy Stephens in Ripley County, Missouri, in 1858. I have NOTHING else in my database for Ripley County, so I thought that might be a clue I could follow, but I cannot find any Stephens family in the 1850 census with a Lucy in the family. How might Andrew Stephens meet someone from Ripley County? How do I know this is the right family? Because the death certificate for their first child, who died in 1861 indicated that she was born in Missouri in 1859. By 1860, this family was in Alabama, but then in Metcalfe County, Kentucky by 1861 as seen by the death record of their first child and a few months later, the birth of their second child. Also in Metcalfe County – Andrew’s uncle, Sherwood. (1860 census)

So I thought I’d widen my search for an 1850 Kentucky census record with a Lucy Stephens of the correct age.  I found 1 possible record in Adair County (part of which became Metcalfe County in 1860). This record shows a Mary Stephens, age 40, with an Elizabeth, age 19, Lucy, age 7 and AJ, age 3.

I believe I see this family again in 1860 living next door to Andrew and Lucy in Franklin County, Alabama. This time, it is “Polly” age 55, Elizabeth, age 30 and Andy, age 16. Both of these families are 5 pages away from Andrew’s father, William Stephens who happens to have a sister named Polly (she is mentioned in their father’s will). Another strange item, Andrew and his small family are also listed in the household of his father, William. later, in 1880, Polly is living with her brother William.

So I have 3 siblings with whom Andrew and/or Lucy are always near in the census records:

1850 1860 1870 1880
Mary “Polly” b. @1807 Adair Franklin, AL ? Russell
William b. @1813 Marion, AL Franklin, AL Russell Russell
Sherwood b. @1815 Adair Metcalfe Metcalfe Metcalfe
and
Lucy b. @1842 m. Andrew 1858 Adair? Metcalfe/Franklin ? Russell

Bottom line – I have to wonder if Lucy is the daughter of Mary “Polly”. (I have never found a husband, so did Mary/Polly have a different maiden name? I went through the Adair County tax records and my notes say that I could not find a Mary Stephens listed, but now I wonder if I need to go back and look for a Polly.) Andrew is the son of William and that would make Andrew and Lucy cousins.

To see more specific information on Andrew and Lucy Stephens, please click on the “5 Andrew Stephens” tab at the top of the screen.

Making the PowerPoint Plan

It’s about 100 degrees outside and I’ve decided it’s an excellent time to begin working on an interactive PowerPoint program for showing family tree information to my Mom’s family. At times, the thought of creating this becomes overwhelming because I’m the first to admit that I’m a perfectionist with OCD tendencies. I want to make this program “entertaining”, but I also want this to be informative and even a little educational. I want my family to be able to see the information that they WANT to see and also able to skip things they don’t care to see. I have to think I may be the only one fascinated with tax records, but want to make them available in case someone else is! And maybe I can make the tax records more “interesting” by creating some type of chart showing how the number of acres owned or the number of cattle changed over time. Maybe I’ll be able to create a little map showing how the tax records show the migration from one area to another – anyway, I digress…

I want the program to be informative as far as our specific family details go, but I also want to pull in some historical references to help everyone see our family in context with the times that they lived in. Newspaper headlines from the area or snippets from local history websites would be interesting things to include. Can you see why I’m overwhelmed? So I thought I’d begin with making a plan and asking for suggestions from anyone who’s interested in following along.

First, I know I’m going to want some background images that are a little more nostalgic than the typical PowerPoint slide design offers, so I’m going to begin looking online for images and textures that I can use.  For example, my mother’s family is from the Kentucky area, so I will begin looking for images of farmland, rolling countysides and log cabins that I can use as backgrounds for a typical family tree chart or family group sheet that I might want to include. I’m also going to look for images of textures like old fashioned lace or burlap or faded denim.

My program will be using a lot of hyperlinks and triggers so that anyone can click on a name or a entry on a timeline to see the source document if they want. This program will not be a “go to the next slide please” kind of program. I’m hoping it will be something that not only lets everyone see where genealogists get their information from, but also is eye opening as far as what things they might have in their possession that they never thought I’d be interested in.

My plan is that my opening slide will be a typical family tree chart with perhaps 3 generations: my mother and her siblings, their parents and both sets of grandparents. Of course, I’d love to do more, but I think that will be PLENTY for the time being. Plus, they will all be able to relate to these people more than a name from 1780 that I just say “Trust me, they are related!” – at least until they show an interest.

From the family tree, they will be able to click on a name and the program will jump to the section for that person. This page will either be a group sheet type of thing, or a timeline with a button to see the group sheet. (The group sheet will have the similar idea of clicking on a name to jump to that section.) While the timeline COULD become very complicated and crowded, I’m thinking that I need to keep it simple. I’ll begin with the obvious stuff – birth date, marriage date and death date. Then I’ll add the birth dates for each child. If there’s room, I’ll add dates of residence locations as well. Each of these dates will also be clickable. If I have a lot of information for a certain event, clicking on the item will trigger a jump to that part of the program.  For example, clicking on the marriage date could jump to a screen that shows the marriage license or registry. If I have a document, but still have questions, I can include those questions on the side to see if anyone else happens to know the answer. If I don’t have a document, then clicking on the item will trigger an information box to appear that will tell where the information came from and perhaps show a list of  the type of document I’m looking for to help the viewer think about what type of information they might have in a closet or attic.

I’ll want to include as many photographs as I can, but the further back in time I go, the fewer photos I have. So I’m also going to try to find or create some silhouette images that might illustrate an occupation of an ancestor. Not only will images like that help to make a slide more visually appealing, it will also show immediately that I DON’T have any photos of a particular person and perhaps that will trigger a memory of a photo that someone has in an album somewhere.

Several years ago, my mother put together a booklet of stories that my grandmother had told her about growing up. There are not many stories in the booklet because my grandmother did not have a very happy childhood, but if I can incorporate those stories and try to also include some images from the area she grew up in to make the stories “come alive”, perhaps that will create a desire for my aunts and uncles to tell stories that they’ve heard so that they can be included in any updated versions of the program.

So here’s my initial “to do” list in preparation for this project.

1) Begin looking for background images – landscapes and textures.

2) Begin looking through my genealogy notes and making the topics that I want to be sure to include as well as the things that might be a little too mundane for the non-genealogists.

3) Begin collecting documents that haven’t been digitized that I want to include.

4) Begin taking digital pictures of some of the items I’ve collected that were my grandmothers.

5) Make a rough mind map of what a typical section for an individual might include.

6) Begin compiling a list of internet links to include in the program so that a person who might find this “genealogy stuff” interesting can begin doing their own research.

If you’d like to follow along and make your own program as I go, you can start collecting items too and thinking about what you’d like to include information wise. I’ll be using PowerPoint 2010 for my examples, but I think most of what I’m planning to include will be doable in older versions as well.

I’m actually starting to get excited about this project! Time to tell the family they will probably be on their own for dinner for the next few days!

“Fresh Start” Time of Year?

The new school year is about a week and a half away and as usual, I have an overwhelming desire to have a “fresh start”.

I want to go through my closet and get rid of clothes I never wear and organize my new “school clothes” for the new year.

I want to go through all of my school files and toss and/or reorganize the paper files as well as my digital files.

I want to get out in my gardens and trim and cut my perennials (which are really hurting in the drought!) and split and rearrange them so they will be better off next spring.

AND, I want to go through my family tree database and clean it up! This is BY FAR the more overwhelming project! I’ve always had a hard time keeping my computer database up to date. I really prefer to just keep everything on Ancestry. But I see a real value in my computer database and I just upgraded to FTM 2012 specifically because it will sync with my tree on Ancestry. But it didn’t take me long to see that I’m missing pieces of information that I should have included. So now, the desire to go through each person and check those citations and add digital images and detailed notes is kicking in BIG TIME.

How can I do this in an organized manner that would not require huge chunks of time that I do not have? I can say I’m going to look at 1 person each day, for example, but how do I do that and not lose my place? There are 776 people in this branch of my tree, but they aren’t all equally researched. Should I concentrate on the individuals in my direct ancestor 5 gen chart and go numerically? Begin with my mother, then her father, then mother, then paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, maternal grandmother, etc? Or do I modify that and work in family groups? My mother’s parents along with all of their children, then each grandparent group? If I choose that, how far down do I go? For example, I can see working on my grandparents and each of their children, but when do I work on THEIR children and grandchildren? What about the ancestor with 14 children? My mother had an uncle who had 28 children for heaven’s sake!

And what about source citations? I’m happy to have the citations as they are automatically downloaded from Ancestry, but if I want to follow Evidence Explained, should I delete all citations and start from scratch? Or modify each citation as I come to it?

After years of upgrading FTM over and over, I have some pretty strange things in the files. Notes for images that became citations of some sort. Names of children that became AKA’s for some individuals, etc. At one time, when there was only one “Notes” section per person, I had loooooong notes for each individual that were basically a timeline of events in their life. I had a note for EVERY item I could find for the individual – tax records, mentions in court records, etc. as well as questions and ideas to follow up on and those notes are totally gone from the program (but not from my computer). Should I try to put those back in?

I’d LOVE to do a totally from scratch type of thing, but is that realistic? It could be a FANTASTIC opportunity to really evaluate what I have and what I need and update my research plan and put together a “to do” list for each person, but it’s difficult enough to find “normal research” time, so would this become a project that I begin to resent?

Perhaps, I should keep my current file as a “working file” and begin a fresh file that begins from scratch. Am I shooting too high? I tend to start these grand projects which later get shelved when reality hits…

What do you think? Any suggestions?

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